Republicans are moving quickly to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court because if they don’t, they worry that disappointed GOP voters will stay home on election day after watching the party that controls the White House and Congress fail to accomplish one of its most important tasks.
An inability to fill the vacancy — followed by last year’s humiliating failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a promise that drove many of their 2016 campaigns — could hurt Republicans in the midterms when they are already bracing for losses in the House and possibly the Senate.
“If Republicans bail out on this good man because of the smears and character assassination...we deserve our fate,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. said.
Republicans, conservatives and moderates alike, voted for Donald Trump in part because they knew a president of their own party — even one as unpredictable as this one — would have the chance to shift the Supreme Court to the right for decades to come.
“If GOP caves to this smear campaign base support will crumble,” tweeted Phil Kerpen, president of the conservative organization American Commitment. “If they hang strong they will be rewarded. Winners win.”
The Supreme Court term begins Monday and it’s already likely they will open with an empty seat after Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, which triggered this nomination fight. If the Senate doesn’t confirm Kavanaugh, lawmakers say it’s unlikely Trump’s next nominee could be in place by the election.
“If the Republicans do not get this vote taken and have Kavanaugh confirmed, you can kiss the midterms goodbye,” conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said this week. “You can kiss goodbye holding the House and you can kiss goodbye holding the Senate.” Trump tweeted Limbaugh’s remarks.
Many Democrats have suggested that Republicans could lose suburban female voters if the Senate confirms Kavanaugh despite the sexual assault allegations hanging over him. A new poll shows Kavanaugh’s net support among Republican women dropped 18 points while Trump’s net support among Republican women dropped 19 points.
Donna Shalala, a former Health and Human Services Secretary and University of Miami president running for Congress in south Florida as a Democrat, said that a Kavanaugh confirmation will “reinforce for women, including Republican women, that this administration in particular, and the Republican Party, behaves irresponsibly on issues that affect their lives.”
But Republican are less focused on suburban women — some of whom they have already lost — and more concerned they could lose their base, especially because it would appear that they were outmaneuvered by Democrats, who they blame for the late-breaking accusations against Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh has been accused by several women of sexual assault while he was in high school and college. Republicans say that because these allegations only came to light after his initial confirmation hearing, they are part of a political campaign to kill Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the nation’s highest court.
In some states like Missouri, where one of the votes against Kavanaugh will come from a Democratic senator on the ballot, it’s possible the issue will actually boost Republican turnout against the Democrats. But it wouldn’t be like that everywhere.
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee hears testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, who accuses Kavanaugh of pinning her to a bed, covering her mouth and groping her during a drunken party when they were teenagers in the 1980s. The committee is scheduled to vote Friday and the Senate will likely vote on the nomination next week.
In the last few days, Kavanaugh has faced other accusations. Deborah Ramirez claims Kavanaugh exposed himself to her in college in front of friends. Julie Swetnick claims that Kavanaugh, along with other boys, spiked the drinks of girls at parties with alcohol or drugs so girls could be gang raped in high school. And an anonymous letter accused him of physically assaulting a woman at a social gathering in the Washington, D.C., area in 1998 while he was drunk.
Trump has claimed Kavanaugh is being set up by Democrats — who he has dubbed “con artists” — for bringing up the allegations after his confirmation hearing was over. “It’s a big fat con job,” he said. “Why did they wait so long?”
At a news conference, Trump said he was open to changing his mind after hearing from Ford on Thursday. “I’m going to see what happens,” he said.
Trump has stood by Kavanaugh in part because he believes it’s better to face the backlash from female voters than Republican voters overall, according to an outside Trump adviser who is in close contact with the White House. “The biggest damage would be for Republicans to pull away,” the person said.
It’s a strategy that matches Trump’s midterm strategy, which has largely been to campaign in states that he won in 2016 trying to persuade his voters to stick with Republicans in the midterms.
Trump acknowledged in his recent Las Vegas rally that the Supreme Court played a major role in his win. “You know, one of the reasons I was elected was because you believed that I was going to pick great Supreme Court justices,” he said.
In 2016, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt listed three potential Supreme Court picks as three of six reasons he planned to vote for Trump despite his reservations. “The first three are the existing and probable two additional Supreme Court nominations he will get to make,” he wrote.
In his first two years in office, Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed to the Supreme Court, and nominated the largest number of federal judges than any recent president as he looks to install conservatives on courts across the U.S.
“It is the primary issue that actually united Republicans around him,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican political consultant based in Sacramento, Calif.
This week, some Republicans did not want to talk about the political consequences of Kavanaugh’s nomination while some House members hoped the Senate actions would not affect them.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers of Ohio suggested he wasn’t urging candidates to talk about Kavanaugh over the next several weeks, but pointed out this was playing out in the other chamber. “Obviously, that’s in the Senate,” Stivers said.
“It’s in everybody’s best interest to get this settled as soon as possible for all candidates,” Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Missouri said.
Kellen Browning, Lesley Clark, Emma Dumain, Bryan Lowry, Kate Irby and Lindsay Wise contributed.